Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher's rise in the Idaho Senate has been swift, even with bumps in the road. But his campaign against Gov. Butch Otter might make his continued role in leadership difficult, he says.
As the No. 4 Republican in the Senate, Fulcher's duties include acting as spokesman for the 28-member GOP caucus and participating in regular meetings of the four leaders, who frequently strategize and negotiate with Otter, the party's standard-bearer.
"I do not want to put my caucus, or for that matter the discussions between the legislative branch and the executive branch, at risk," Fulcher said.
Asked whether he planned to resign from leadership, he said, "I don't want to commit to that yet, but what I will commit to is making sure that awkwardness is minimized."
Fulcher came to the Senate in 2005, appointed to replace the disgraced Sen. Jack Noble, who had lied to colleagues about his personal interest in a liquor bill he authored.
Fulcher had tough primaries against Steven Ricks in 2006 and 2008, winning by 130 and 149 votes, respectively. In December 2008, Fulcher failed in his bid to unseat Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner, then the chamber's leading moderate. But a month later, opportunity knocked. When GOP Caucus Chairman Brad Little was appointed lieutenant governor, Fulcher was elected by colleagues to replace him.
In 2010, minutes after the news that President Pro Tem Bob Geddes would not seek re-election to the No. 1 post, Fulcher emailed colleagues to say he wanted the job. He lost to Sen. Brent Hill, who remains in power.
Out of leadership in 2012, Fulcher and eight other Senate Republicans took the extraordinary step of publicly announcing their dissent from a secret caucus vote to retain Caucus Chairman John McGee, of Caldwell, after a celebrated DUI arrest.
In what turned out to be prescient, Fulcher said: "There are two things that genuinely concern me: John's well-being and the reputation of the institution we serve."
Six weeks later, McGee resigned from the Senate after a secretary said he propositioned her for sex outside his Capitol office. McGee ultimately spent 39 days in jail for disturbing the peace. Fulcher replaced him as caucus chairman.
A lifetime as a salesman makes him reliably quotable. He has good relationships with Democrats. When Fulcher became caucus chairman in 2009, former Democratic Leader Kate Kelly praised his personality and work ethic.
Fulcher's conservative credentials are stellar. Ten hours after his 2005 appointment, he voted to require parental consent for minors having abortions. In 2006, he argued to ban gay marriage, saying, "It's a culture war that we're in. ... We get pounded by influences that are outside our own great state."
He has opposed assisted suicide, fought domestic partnership benefits for gays and voted against an increase in fuel taxes and a ban on texting while driving. He failed to persuade colleagues to assert that states could nullify federal laws. Lawmakers also rejected his pitch for Idaho to adopt tough immigration reforms.
He won an increase in the sales tax credit for groceries and advocated annexation reform.
However, Fulcher said he has no opinion on abolishing the Federal Reserve or re-establishing a gold standard, doesn't believe the 9/11 attacks were a domestic conspiracy and said he has "no reason to believe" President Obama wasn't born in Hawaii. While not taking a position, he said "it's going to be difficult" to repeal the direct election of U.S. senators and return that authority to state legislatures.
"I'm not going to be waving those flags," Fulcher told the Statesman.
In 2006, Fulcher ended 23 years of employment in high tech. Now an agent for Mark Bottles Real Estate, he says the Idaho Land Board should get out of commercial real estate. But he defends Otter's courtship of overseas business, including Chinese investment.
"We need to continue to open markets," he said.